SACRAMENTO (CN) – Gold miners claim California violated their constitutional right to suck gold out of river beds and streams with power dredging equipment. The state is causing “serious economic hardship” for the suction miners to preserve habitat for Coho salmon, according to the federal complaint.
Public Lands for the People called California’s Senate Bill 670 “regulation run riot.” SB 670 will prohibit stream mining with dredging equipment and stop mining permits from being issued.
The group says today’s prospectors have legitimate mining claims on public land. Disabled Vietnam veteran Terry Stapp, who supplements his income by sucking gold out of Sierra County riverbeds, says the “economic loss is devastating,” as Internet sales of mined gold are “a necessity to financially survive.”
The miners say California’s plan to protect salmon is specious, since “the prohibition would take place whether or not there were Coho salmon, trout, minnows or any fish whatsoever in any of the state’s waters.”
It’s not the first time the organization has accused the government of constitutional and statutory violations. In June, Public Lands claimed U.S. Forest Service agents were trying to rein in prospectors and their equipment by closing unauthorized mining roads in the Eldorado National Forest for the sake of conservation.
Attorney David Young, representing the group in both cases, said gold mining is a quintessentially American pastime, hearkening back to when gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1848.
“This is a tradition that’s part of being a Westerner,” Young said. “There are an awful lot of people who want to pass this legacy on to their children.”
Young, who said the government has overstepped its bounds and will continue to do so if unchecked, noted the “difference between just valuing the land and using the land to preserve human life. We are operating under federal law here, mining laws that go back well over a century without having to get huge government permission to do this and that. It’s part and parcel of how people live here in this country.”
Public Lands seeks damages and wants the state enjoined from enforcing SB 670.